Food competitions might not be something one has given much thought to as they seem like a silly carnival spectacle. Nicole Lucas Haimes’ ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “The Good, The Bad, The Hungry” puts a spotlight on the world of competitive eating and how it’s seen as a cutthroat sport. In some ways, the movie falls short but it’s an eye-opening – and stomach-turning – experience.
The movie opens on a July 4, 2006 competition held in Coney Island. People came from around the world to compete in the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest. The film introduces us to two key players: Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi. Kobayashi built a reputation for himself as this unstoppable force in competitive eating. Chestnut can’t seem to crack the code to Kobayashi’s success and it amazes and frustrates him in equal doses.
There are moments in the film where it becomes evident everyone was in awe of what Kobayashi could do because of his machine-like proficiency. The movie shows his intense training and methodologies that lead to his great success. “Competitive eating has become a full time job for me,” Kobayashi says as his stature started to rise. His prowess catapulted him into the pop culture sphere. Kobayashi became featured in commercials, parodied on “Saturday Night Live and “The Simpsons.”
“The Good, The Bad, The Hungry” is an fascinating exposé on a world an audience may have never truly considered. Furthermore, as an exploration of an intense rivalry it is thought provoking, if occasionally surface-level. The movie is constrained by its 77-minute runtime, so it never fully dives into what drives Chestnut and Kobayashi’s passion for competitive eating, outside of the rivalry. It’s safe to say they are putting their health at risk by eating mass quantities of hot dogs and other unhealthy food. A deeper understanding of why they would continue to competitively eat would have made for a more nuanced experience.
Much like the Oscar-nominated “Super Size Me,” “The Good, The Bad, The Hungry” will likely have audiences squirming in their seat as mass quantities of food are consumed on screen. In that sense, Haimes has created a sensory experience. We can feel what Chesnut and Kobayashi are going through in the clips presented. “The Good, The Bad, The Hungry” would have been a much stronger film if we could understand why they were putting themselves through this.